As a human being, a Christian and a Catholic bishop, what did he attempt to do for others? From Augustine’s writings and actions, a response to these questions can be assembled. Throughout his life, he was gifted with a personality that made him reach out to others, and be available to them. That others were attracted to his company and friendship is evident from even his earliest years, and in his great grief when people close to him died, as he himself described them in his Confessions.
Picture (above): In the foreground is the remains of Augustine’s basilica (church) in Hippo. In the distance is the modern Basilica of Augustine in Annaba. See photo gallery.Augustine’s concern for others came through in his writings (e.g., see his Letter to Proba), in his role as a political activist, and in his concern about the evils of slavery and about the plight of those who were poor in Hippo and the marginalised in society. Through his writings and their popularity, he showed a great commitment to the broader Church; although more than occupied with the local responsibilities as a bishop and a town magistrate, he accepted the challenge to defend the Catholic faith against the main theological errors of his time: Manicheanism, Donatism and Pelagianism.
This defence of the Church also involved him in many journeys to bishops’ conferences, in which he shared his insights and supported his fellow-bishops, who generally were not blessed with the same penetrating intelligence as he possessed. As well, he defended the Church against blame attributed to it by pagans who held Christianity responsible for weakening the Roman Empire, leading to the invasion and sack of the city of Rome in the year 410. His response to this was one of his major and most influential books, the City of God. He saw his mission as being a servant, "a servant of Christ, and, in his name, a servant of his servants." (Letter 217). In Letter 124, 1, he wrote, "My first concern must be for the Church entrusted to me [in Hippo]. I serve its interests, and desire less to rule than to be useful to it."
In his Life of Augustine, Possidius summarised Augustine as a great promoter and defender of the Church. He wrote, "...And he now taught and preached in public and in private, in the house and in the church, the Word of God; confuting with great confidence the heretics of Africa, especially the Donatists, Manicheans, and pagans, in sermons and in books which the Christians, filled with joy and admiration, diffused everywhere. And thus, by the help of God, did the Church of Africa begin to raise her head, after having been so long oppressed by the heretics, especially the Donatists, who had seduced the greater part of the people. And the heretics rivalled the Catholics in their ardour to hear him, so that note-takers were employed to take down his words, which were thus scattered over all of Africa, to the great joy even of the Church beyond the sea.”
And less than nine months after death of Augustine, Pope Celestine pronounced the first of a long series of tributes to him that have continued down to our own time: "We remember him [Augustine] as a man of such great wisdom that he was always counted by my predecessors to be one of the greatest teachers."
Finally, the broad mission of Augustine is reflected in his legacy, i.e., what the strength of his influence achieved in later centuries. Had Augustine been asked, “What is your mission in life?” he would have given a theological answer. He would have said something such as, “To praise God by developing and using my God-given talents according to God’s Will; and for God’s greater glory.” Had he added a second sentence by way of further explanation, it certainly would have contained the word love. As he said in his Confessions, “My love is my weight,” the operating principle whereby he acted and was held on a steady course.Photo GalleryFor the Augnet gallery about Augustine and the Augustinians in Algeria (including Hippo, Annaba and Thagaste), click here.AN1322